Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category
Following my previous post on Velocity videos, I had some private email conversations with good folks at O’Reilly, and a really nice in-person exchange with a top-level person as well. I was surprised to hear them encourage me to publish my videos online freely!
I still believe that nothing substitutes for the experience of attending an O’Reilly conference in-person, but I’ll also be the first to admit that my talks are usually more conceptual and academic than practical, and designed to start a conversation rather than to tell you the Truth According To Baron. Thus, I think they’re worth sharing more widely.
O’Reilly alleviated my concerns about “killing the golden goose,” but I like one person’s take on the cost of O’Reilly’s conferences. “You think education is expensive? Try ignorance.”
I’ll post some of my past talks soon for your enjoyment.
One of the most valuable life skills you can ever develop is to overcome the urge to stay within your comfort zone. If you stay where you’re familiar and feel safe, two things might happen:
- You might find out that it’s not safe after all. Bad things can happen where you feel at home just as well as out of the familar.
- Nothing good will happen. You might skate through life without even living it.
Last week at Velocity I responded to an invitation from O’Reilly to join a lunch with Per Scholas. I didn’t know much about Per Scholas, but I’ve learned to say yes to invitations from O’Reilly. The night before, I watched an inspiring talk during Ignite, from the founder of Per Scholas.
Impressed, I began to really look forward to spending some time with the Per Scholas folks the next day at lunch. The idea was pretty simple: people who were working through the Per Scholas training would pair up one-for-one (as I understand it) with people like myself — technologists, entrepreneurs, hackers, makers, people with perhaps something to share.
I sat down at a table in the designated area, leaving lots of room beside me for people to join. None of the Per Scholas students was there yet. I chatted idly with two other people at the table. Soon one of the Per Scholas staff members sat down with us. I asked her a series of questions for ten minutes or so. She explained that she helped people with basic life and work skills, coaching and mentoring even after they leave the intensive study program.
Still no students had joined us. Suddenly I looked over at another table and saw that it had filled entirely with Per Scholas students, shoulder to shoulder.
“Basic life skill number 1 is to build your network and learn from unfamiliar people,” I remarked to the staffer next to me. “They are missing an opportunity to mingle with us.”
“Yes,” she answered. “They are.”
And then you could (metaphorically) hear the crickets chirping. I finished my lunch and left.
I won’t brag about myself, but I can say that the other people at that table were damn sure worth getting to know. As for me, I considered it a complete waste of my time; I’d chosen it over a conversation I really wanted to attend elsewhere. There’s another blog post in here somewhere — this isn’t the first time I’ve had this kind of experience.
Per Scholas students aren’t paying anything (financially) for their training. Are they getting what they’re paying for? You bet they are. Like all of us, they will get out of it exactly what they put into it.
Get out of your comfort zone. If you don’t, the worst thing in the world happens to you: nothing.
At the closing keynote of the recent Velocity conference in New York, an audience member stepped up to the microphone and called for O’Reilly to provide videos of the event free to the public, instead of behind a paywall. The conference chairs, who don’t call the shots on such matters, squirmed and looked at the person who does call the shots, a few feet away.
Someone volunteered the information that speakers are able to download their own talks and post them freely if they wish. The original commenter then asked the audience, which presumably included most of the speakers, to do so en masse.
As a speaker, frequent conference-goer, author, technologist, and even a sometimes-organizer of such events, I can’t say I agree with this suggestion. I think it’s self-defeating.
The commenter’s request was prefaced by something to the effect of “we should open up all this great content and thought-provoking conversation more widely.” But I think that sometimes, you gotta want something badly enough to pay for it, even if it feels like it’s a shame to ask people to pay for access to the club that makes the world a better place.
I don’t know O’Reilly’s numbers, but I know conferences are a tough business. O’Reilly’s in an even tougher industry in general — publishing. Much of the thought leadership at events like Velocity comes from the authors, editors, bloggers, and other communicators of technical and cultural excellence. Most of these people have worked really hard for comparatively little financial reward. I never got the impression that my editor Andy Oram, who is really dedicated to his life’s passion, is a rich man. I would be surprised if O’Reilly is raking in the cash.
The videos of the content are, as I understand, quite lucrative for O’Reilly. Maybe O’Reilly could consider something like making videos of conferences free after a couple of years when they’re selling less actively, but those videos are probably a big part of what makes Velocity possible — and sustains their business overall.
The Velocity conference, and those like it, is a venue for changing the world. I’ve witnessed it time and time again. The network that lives in and around the conferences, publishing, blogging, and so on is a symbiotic ecosystem. It’s all a very real part of O’Reilly’s mission to “spread the knowledge of innovators.” I know I sound like a shill, but seriously, not many organizations do what O’Reilly does, and you can’t undercut them without broad consequences.
Let’s not kill the golden goose. If you think the videos are valuable, great. Tell people they’re worth paying for. Better yet — put your money where your mouth is and show up at the conference yourself.
Edit Just to clarify, I’m not advocating for O’Reilly to remove the freedom for speakers to do as they see fit with their own videos. I just don’t think it’s a good thing if every speaker decides to post the video just to make an end run around O’Reilly’s policy en masse. John Allspaw said it well in an email to me: “You think education is expensive? Try ignorance!”